Let’s be honest, we all love a good firework display, whether its 4th July, a graduation party or any other celebration we always enjoy them. Sadly though the same can’t be said for our horses, both the sudden loud noises and bright flashes of light can very easily scare and frighten them, and being flight animals their instinct is to get away from the perceived danger.
Of course, you can’t, and probably wouldn’t want to, stop everybody from having fireworks but the good news is that with a little bit of preparation and forward planning you can do an awful lot to help keep your horse calm.
Make sure you’re prepared
There’s a lot that you can do in advance to help keep your horse safe, comfortable, and calm.
Find out when the display is
There are, of course, certain dates when fireworks are guaranteed but regularly checking local press as well as listening to the local radio will help to keep you informed of when any displays may be held. If a display is being held near you make sure the organizers know that there are horses nearby and ask them to try and not let the fireworks off in the direction of your horses.
Stick to your normal routine
Horses are creatures of habit and any sudden change can cause stress so try and stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Keeping your horse with his friends and within familiar surroundings will help to keep him calm. It’s important to make sure everything is safe and that you do what you can to minimize any chance of injury. If your horse is stabled then check his stall for any loose nails or splinters of wood, make sure there’s nothing there that could cause him any harm. If your horse is normally turned out, and it’s safe to turn him out, then you shouldn’t stable him. Instead check the pasture to make sure it’s okay, the fencing also needs to be secure and high enough so that your horse can’t jump over it.
If you do plan to change his routine, for example, if you plan to stable him during the display, then start to do it a week or two before the display. Any changes will undoubtedly cause your horse a certain amount of stress so it’s important to not add to that by changing his routine at the same time as a firework display.
I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that hay and fireworks don’t go together very well and that the consequences can be very serious. While you can’t prevent a stray firework from landing in the yard, making sure that any hay and bedding is stored well away from the horses and undercover will help to minimize the risk of anything catching fire.
Having an emergency fire procedure at the yard is a must at any time of year but even more important when there’s a greater danger of something catching fire. Make sure that everybody knows what to do in the event of a fire, who needs to call who and who’s dealing with what. It’s also a good idea to make sure there are plenty of fire buckets and extinguishers as well as clearly marked meeting points.
If you’re at all unsure what your procedure is or don’t have one then now is as good a time as any to change that. If you’re not sure about anything then speak to your local fire department who will be happy to help and offer advice.
Check your insurance
Insurance isn’t something that people like to think about so it often gets overlooked but crucial that you check your policy and that everything is up to date beforehand. If your horse was to panic and escape then, if he hurts anybody or causes an accident, you could be held responsible. This is why third-party liability is so important.
If you can afford it then it would also be a good idea to add major medical cover to your policy if it doesn’t have it already. This would cover any veterinary bills that might arise if your horse injures himself. While you obviously want to do everything you can to reduce this risk its also a good idea to have a plan in place just in case something does happen.
Insurance can be a daunting minefield of endless options and exceptions, but hopefully this article will help to explain it in a bit more detail.
Speak to your veterinarian
If your horse becomes distressed by sudden loud sounds or has been very anxious and scared of fireworks in the past then it would be a good idea to speak to your veterinarian about sedation beforehand. This might seem like an extreme measure and in most cases it is, but if you know your horse doesn’t deal with fireworks very well then it might be the best option for his safety, as well as that of yours and members of the public.
Another alternative to having your horse sedated is to move him out of the area for the night. Again your veterinarian may be able to help with this if you don’t have anywhere else for your horse to stay.
During the firework display
While you will have done much of the groundwork to keep your horse calm before, there are still things that you need to remember on the day too.
Don’t leave your horse alone
If you’re not able to stay with your horse for the duration of the display then make sure somebody with experience can. While nobody needs to literally stay by your horse’s side, there should be somebody to hand who can keep an eye on him and make sure he’s not too distressed or upset.
Make sure the person who’s staying with your horse can easily get hold of you if they need to, they should also have contact details for your veterinarian as well as clear instructions of any medication or specific requirements your horse has.
I know you’ll obviously be anxious but try and stay calm if you can, you might not think it’ll make a difference to how your horse feels but horses are great at picking up how we feel, even if we don’t know how we’re feeling so, so if you’re nervous and worried your horse will be too. Try and take a few moments before seeing your horse to take a few deep breaths. Believe me, it’ll make a huge difference.
Make use of distractions
Horses, like so many prey animals, have acute hearing which means that the fireworks will often sound much louder to them, this combined with the heightened senses can cause them to become very distressed and frightened. While, of course, you can’t stop the fireworks from making any sound, nor can you put earplugs in your horse’s ears, you can distract his attention from the noise.
A week or so before the display hang a portable radio near your horse, but far enough away so he can’t ‘investigate’ it for himself. Start by playing relaxing music, or sounds, from the radio while you’re around then, when he’s used to that, leave it on when you leave the yard. By the time of the display, he’ll be used to the radio and it’ll help to mask the sound of the fireworks.
While you know your horse better than anybody, keep in mind that they are still living animals with their own minds and instincts. If your horse is startled then his primary concern will be to get away from the perceived threat and if you get in his way you could end up getting hurt.
Of course, your priority is your horse’s health but if you end up getting injured yourself then you’re not going to be able to help him.
Never ride during a firework display
It might seem like a great idea to go for a ride and have the fireworks ‘explode’ around you as you ride, but to your horse, it’ll be anything but fun. Horses can spook very easily and every loud bang and bright burst of color is likely to increase the chance of this happening. If you need to distract your horse don’t do it by riding, talk to him calmly and reassure him with your voice instead, every time he doesn’t react to a firework give him a healthy treat.
The day after
Just because the display is over it doesn’t mean that you can completely relax.
Check for injuries
It can be difficult to check your horse properly in the dark, even with a torch or headlamp, so it’s important to check him thoroughly the next day. Look for cuts, scratches, or anything out of the ordinary ad treat them if necessary.
Check for stray fireworks
Fireworks seem to have a mind of their own and can easily find their way into the yard even when the display has been a long way away. For your horse’s safety, it’s important that you check the pasture (including water troughs), hay, and bedding sheds as well as the feed room and of course each stall.
Used fireworks can still be dangerous to horses so they need to be removed, but it’s also important to look out for discarded wires from sparklers and Chinese lanterns (even though they’re banned in many countries).
Know the law
Every state and country will set its own laws but many of them will state that fireworks can’t be set off near horses (or livestock), or housing that contains horses, often with very heavy fines if the law is broken. If you’re not sure of the law or feel that it has been broken then you should speak to your local police department.
Fireworks can be great fun and as long as you consider your horse and prepare for any displays then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy them.
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